FEELING discouraged in your fruit and veg garden? Troubled by extreme UV, heatwaves, blasts of north wind and hollow-sounding water tanks? Join the club.
It could be worse. We live down south, not in sunny Mildura, and for that I’m thankful.
There is also gratitude due to this hot weather for what it teaches us gardeners about growing edibles, and other plants, in challenging conditions.
We need techniques that are preventative and remedial.
I’ve been asking local gardeners what they do to save their precious food crops and I’m happy to pass on a few of their tips.
Lorraine, who has a well-ordered, small and bountiful yard, has been using polystyrene boxes for delicates such as lettuces.
Her tender plants, grown in the boxes, have done much better and provided better eating than the ground-grown equivalents.
It’s not just being able to move the plants into some shade but also that once you’ve committed to the box, you tend to keep a close eye on things like drying soil, she says.
Strategically places melaleuca offcuts provide welcome shade in fruit trees.
The hardy amaranth shelters a couple of tomatoes.
Op shop net curtains shade the golden delicious.
Of course there are lots of ways to create shade: net curtains for draping, hessian for loose wrapping (didn’t work very well on Terry’s apples), shade cloth on frames and stakes, trees, layers of mulch, etc.
An alternative is a pile of leafy prunings or tree trimmings; easy, instant shade makers. This is one of my preferred methods as I can target plants in danger of scorching and leave those that can manage.
You can dig the twig or woody end into the soil quite close to the vulnerable plant or make a rough shelter over a whole bed with these. It also protects the soil and keeps a bit of moisture in the mulch.
A neighbour has put up a beach umbrella over his most precious vegetables. This looks summery and cheerful but a strong gust of wind could ruin the effect.
What we plant, where, is the bigger picture.
Before next summer, another gardener I spoke to is going to try perennial vegetables like warrigal greens, perpetual spinach (or beet), sorrel for salads and rhubarb for fruit and jam. Her theory is they will be stronger, more established, and better able to cope with whatever comes along.
Still, we cannot live on perpetual silver beet alone.
A t the Wonthaggi Community Garden self-sown amaranth is throwing some lovely shade where it is most needed on summer favourites like basil and tomatoes. It comes up everywhere (could be a pest, I guess), but what a trouper. It’s the tall red-leafed variety with a dramatic scarlet tuft, which is chockfull of edible grain (seeds).
I also broadcast mustard seed in a couple of beds to act as nurse and shade plants and weed preventers. It has worked well and seems to confuse the white cabbage moths as well.
More good news about managing gardens in hotter conditions comes from plants themselves.
According to research in the relatively new field of plant neurobiology, humans can learn from the highly skilled, adaptive behaviour of the planet’s flora.
Michael Pollan (author of The Botany of Desire and The Omivore’s Dilemma) has surveyed new and somewhat controversial research into plant behaviour that could change the way we garden forever. But more on that in another column ...
In the meantime, how about sharing your tried and tested (and more experimental) hot-weather gardening techniques so we can keep growing through summer on the Bass Coast?
February 14, 2014
Your examples for heat management were greatly appreciated. The only ideas I can contribute are growing dense rows of sunflowers, corn or amaranth, particularly to shade crops from the late afternoon heat, which seems to be extending well into the late afternoons. We also have several poles strategically placed around the vegie patch to hold up triangular shade cloths, similar to those extending pergolas or verandahs. As they move in the wind, I have found them to be excellent bird deterrents.
Vilya Congreave, Wonthaggi
February 8, 2014
I use bracken - readily available and a nice long stem - to shelter sensitive plants on scorchers, although it probably won't suit tidy gardeners.